The RKO Joint Receptions


A while ago Geoff Wait sent some fantastic images of Elton Hayes attending a premiere of Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men in Cardiff. We now know that several other members of the cast also made personal appearances at selected cinemas. But, the article I have featured in this blog post is a mystery which I hope my readers can solve.

The images I am showing unfortunately do not have a date and come from an unknown source. They feature RKO-Radio’s joint receptions in provinces for Saturday Island and the Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men. 

The premiere of the Story of Robin Hood was held at the Leicester Square Theatre on Thursday 13th March 1952. In the audience were many distinguished guests and celebrities, including the Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor of Nottingham who presented a gift to Joan Rice (Maid Marian in the movie).

Other guests included Claudette Colbert, Donald Peers, Petula Clark, Herbert Wilcox and Anna Neagle.

The Mayor of Westminster also attended, along with the ‘real’ Sheriff of Nottingham who met up with Peter Finch (the Sheriff in the movie) at the reception. The theatre attracted hundreds of sightseers and was covered by the ‘television newsreel cameras’ of the time.

It would be very interesting to know when exactly these RKO Joint Receptions were held.

From the advertisements of the time, we have seen that several films accompanied the showing of Disney’s Story of Robin Hood:

Hammer, The Toff  (1952) starring John Bentley and Patricia Dainton was shown with Disney’s Robin Hood at the Gaumont Theatre in Manchester.

Seal Island (1948) an American documentary film directed by James Algar. Produced by Walt Disney, this was the first instalment of the True-Life Adventures.

Saturday Island (1952) (also known as Island of Desire) was an adventure romance war film directed by Stuart Heisler and starring Linda Darnell, Tab Hunter and Donald Gray. Shown during the RKO Joint Receptions.

Do you know when these RKO Joint Receptions were held?

Merry Christmas


I started this blog about Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men in October 2006 and never dreamt it would be so successful. With the help of contributions from all over the world I have managed to cover nearly every aspect of this wonderful film. Next year will be the 70th anniversary of the making of this Technicolor masterpiece.

In this unprecidented year we have definitely needed some of that Disney magic. Thank you to all my regular contributors and visitors for your continued support.  Merry - or should that be Merrie Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year to you.

Joan Rice as Maid Marian

I recently posted about Elton Hayes as the best Alan a Dale in films and television. Here is the beautiful Joan Rice (1930-1997) as Maid Marian on a cinema lobby card for Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952). She in my opinion was the best Maid Marian of all-time. 

There are now 97 pages on this blog covering every aspect of Joan's life and career. During the process of publishing those various articles, I have learnt so much about this now almost forgotten actress. How as a child she played amongst the glades of Sherwood Forest and later was personally chosen by Walt Disney to appear as Maid Marian in his live-action movie. She was always proud to say that she was Disney’s first Marian.

Alas, her film career was short but her memory is kept alive on this site.

Elton Hayes as Alan-a-Dale

Elton Hayes as Alan-a-Dale

In my opinion the best portrayal of the minstrel Alan-a-Dale in both film and television was by Elton Hayes (1915-2001). He appeared as the legendary character in Walt Disney’s live-action film The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952). Above is a rare still of him on set during the filming of this underrated movie.

A magazine article from 1954 describes Elton's early life:

“ Elton Hayes has been singing to a small guitar ever since he bought a sixpenny ukulele as a school boy. The smooth easy manner in which he sings those old English ballads and folk songs has come with many years of training in the theatre.

Elton was born in Bletchley, Buckinghamshire, but spent most of his school days in Leicester. His parents were both in the entertainment business - his father was in the circus and his mother was a singer.

It was natural that Elton should want to follow in his parents footsteps. He toured the country with them, and while they performed on stage, he would sit in the wings watching, and learning how show business worked.

He soon mastered the sixpenny ukulele which he bought with his pocket money, and by the time he was ten years old he could play nearly every stringed instrument.

But Elton wanted to be a straight actor. However fate turned his career in other directions. He became interested in old English folk songs and ballads.

When the war started in 1939 Elton joined the army and became a gunner in the Royal Artillery. He was posted overseas in India and decided to take his guitar with him. He was also given a commission.

While in India he became seriously ill with rheumatic fever. This was a tragedy for Elton, for his fingers began to stiffen.

One day he remembered his guitar. He took it from its case and began strumming it. And soon, after  many hours of painful effort his fingers grew more supple. He could play again. His courage had brought him through.

In 1946 Elton returned to Britain and appeared on ‘In Town Tonight’. This was a beginning. For, like thousands of other ex-serviceman, he found that he had to begin building a career again.

Just how successful he has been can be judged from the number of programmes he has appeared in on radio and television.

He has had a record spot on nearly every major radio station on the Continent and the BBC. He has appeared in his own show on television and was a permanent member of Eric Barker's ‘Just Fancy’. And of course he makes gramophone records.

When the film ‘ Robin Hood’ was made in this country, the producers did not have to search far for the man to play the strolling minstrel - Elton Hayes was a  natural choice”.

Elton fishing during a break from filming Robin Hood

If you want to read more about the life and career of Elton Hayes just click on the label below.

The Queen and the Archbishop


Since starting this blog, I have been amazed at the amount of images that continue to appear from Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952). I have never seen the still (above) before. It shows Queen Eleanor (Martitia Hunt) kissing the hand of the Archbishop of Canterbury (Antony Eustrel). 

As explained in the description below the image, Queen Eleanor and the Archbishop of Canterbury are responsible for the governance of the kingdom while King Richard I is on Crusade. Together they plan to curb the immediate threat of the king's brother Prince John.

My blog has over 800 pages containing hundreds of images from this wonderful movie. Take a look under the label 'Picture Gallery' and Images of a Legend'. If you are aware of any stills that have never been featured, please let me know.

Joan Rice at Burnham Beeches

These are a couple of my much-treasured pictures of the gorgeous Joan Rice (1930-1997) as Maid Marian. They were probably taken on location at Middle Pond at Burnham Beeches possibly during the filming of the Whistle My Love sequence for Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood (1952), sometime between April/June 1951.

Below is the picture I took of approximately the same area on 30th April 2009. 

Literally hundreds of movies and TV shows have been filmed at Burnham Beeches and there is a list of them on this website. It is a truly beautiful place and well-worth a visit.

Middle Pond, Burnham Beeches

Robin Hood Postcard

This postcard (above) was one of the first pieces of memorabilia I ever bought. It is taken from a publicity still of Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952) and shows Richard Todd as Robin Hood and Joan Rice as Maid Marian. Do you have any postcards from this wonderful film?

Carmen Dillon's Robin Hood

Scathelock is put in the stocks

Neil has been a regular contributor to this blog for many years and shown above is a still that he recently sent to me. It is of course from Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952). I love seeing these images from my favourite movie. When concentrating on the film's
action, it is easy to miss some of this detail. Look at the elaborate hinges on the door for example.

It was Carmen Dillon (1908-2000) who was given the job of art director on Robin Hood by Walt Disney. She had a fine reputation on both sides of the Atlantic for imagination and artistic flair allied to a practical approach to set design and construction, which had been evident in her art direction of some of the biggest and most highly praised period films made in Britain at that time, including Henry V and Hamlet, for which she won her Oscar. 

Carmen Dillon discusses the design of Nottingham Square

Catherine O'Brien in her article, Carmen Over Came Prejudice
 ..........And Put On Her Slacks, gives a detailed account of this remarkable woman and her work on Robin Hood:

"Small and neat of figure, with greying hair and light blue eyes, Carmen Dillon was born in Ireland. After she had qualified as an architect, she became greatly attracted by the artistic possibilities of film set design and set out to get a job which would train her in this field. It is strange to reflect that this happened only fifteen years ago and yet at this time no one in film studios would take the idea of a woman art director seriously.

Carmen discussing a castle interior

Anyone knowing Carmen Dillon, however, would realise that such an attitude would only serve to strengthen her determination to attain her objective. Eventually, she obtained toe-hold in a studio at Wembley, as an assistant in the art department. Even then petty restrictions beset her at every turn. She was not permitted to go on a set in slacks and was forbidden to discuss her work with the men in the studio workshops and stages. After a few weeks of making the best of this difficult situation, Carmen was asked to take over the work of an art director who had fallen ill on the eve of a production. By proving her undoubted talent and aptitude for production design she was able to overcome the prejudice which had hitherto hampered her career.

The townsfolk turn on the Sheriff

On Walt Disney’s Robin Hood, Carmen was in control of a staff of over two hundred men, who accepted her advice and judgement with the same respect and deference as they would accord to any male art director. Among the technicians, she has earned, through her skill and tact, a reputation for knowing exactly what she wants, without fuss or muddle. She carries all the details of planning and building the sets in her head and has a remarkable knack of foreseeing and thus forestalling building problems.
Before the stage is set for the actors, the lighting cameraman and the director, Carmen plans the work, step by step, with fastidious detail. In the case of Robin Hood, the first step was research, to ensure that the pictorial effect should have a truly authentic 12th-century keynote.

Collecting for the King's ransom in Nottingham Square

Two of the twenty-five interior sets designed by Carmen Dillon for Walt Disney’s Robin Hood serve to illustrate the immense research and artistry with which she conjured up the background and atmosphere of 12th-century England. One of- Nottingham Square, in the reign of Richard Lionheart-was, constructed both on Denham lot and on one of the studio stages-to cater for both units.

Three sides of an irregular square were surrounded by houses, some half-timbered and all pre-fabricated in the plasterer's shop under the direction of Master Plasterer Arthur Banks. The houses and shops made of plaster and wattle (which was, in fact, the building material of that period) had every appearance of solid antiquity in despite of their backing of tubular steel scaffolding. Most imposing was the Sheriff’s house, with its carved arches and steep outside staircase. Thatching was carried out by one of Britain’s oldest surviving craftsmen in this line Mr A. Gilder of Stoke Poges.

The centre of the square was filled with wattle hurdles and pens in which were enclosed game and produce of every type. By the time the stars, featured players and extras-numbering up to two hundred-had taken their place in the square it was hard to imagine a more convincing reproduction of life in 12th century England. It is in this setting that Robin Hood and his men ride in from the forest to rescue a poacher and a farmer who are suffering at the hands of the Sheriff of Nottingham and succeed in turning the tables on their hated persecutor.

The Outlaws receive a signal

One of the most important sets in the film is the Sherwood Forest camp where Robin Hood and his Merry Men live in outlawry, in their woodland hideout. Some weeks before the film, Carmen accompanied a research party including producer Perce Pearce, scriptwriter Larry Watkin, and film star Richard Todd to Nottingham and returned laden with photographs of every relic of Robin Hood days, which would help her construct the original setting at Denham Studios.

In what little remains of the original Sherwood Forest, Carmen studied the Queen Oak, where Robin Hood and Maid Marian are said to have their trysting-place; Robin Hood’s Larder, another giant oak, where legend has it, the outlaws stored their game and the vast labyrinth of caves at the foot of Creswell Crags, where Robin Hood and his men are said to have hidden their horses when the Sheriff of Nottingham was on their tracks. 

Back in the studio, Carmen incorporated many of these features of the Robin Hood country into her set design, which then became the subject of a conference between producer Perce Pearce, scriptwriter Larry Warkin and herself before passing it into the hands of the draughtsmen and model makers in her art department. From their blueprints and scale models the construction manager, Gus Walker, was then able to allocate to the various departments concerned the work required to bring the sketch into concrete existence".

Carmen plans Nottingham Square

Carmen Dillon was without a doubt one of the main reasons Disney's Story of Robin Hood oozed quality. I believe her remarkable talent needs to be highlighted a lot more. 

In an interview, Ken Annakin, the director of Robin Hood said of her:

"Carmen was one of the great art directors on the European scene. Not only was she an accomplished painter, but she was able to supervise big set construction and set-dressing, down to the last nail. So much so, that sometimes when I was lining up a shot, I found her a bit of a pain in the ass because she would insist that her designs and her visual conception of a scene must be adhered to, whereas I regarded the sets only as a background for the actors".

Carmen Dillon plans another set

Annakin went on:
"He [Walt] didn’t stay very long on Robin Hood. He had great trust in Carmen Dillon, who was responsible for the historical correctness. Everything, from costumes to sets to props and he - I’m not so sure why he was so certain - but he was dead right at having chosen her. And she did that picture and Sword and The Rose too. And his reliance was 100%. A director can’t go into every historical detail and so I would check with her also, pretty well on most things. And she would quietly be on the set and if we used a prop wrongly, she would have her say. Mine was the final say, as director, but one couldn’t have done without her ".

The Adventures and The Story

Two Robin Hood films. One was made in America and became legendary in its own right. The other was made in England and has almost completely been forgotten. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952). In this article, I would like to compare these two versions. 

In his book The Best of Disney (1988),  Neil Sinyard says:

"Nobody would make great claims for the imaginative cinematic qualities of the films Disney made in Britain in the 1950s."
He then goes on to say:
" The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (to give it its full title) certainly pales in comparison with earlier film versions of the legend starring Fairbanks and Flynn."

I am a great admirer of both early versions. I think Warner Brothers The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) truly deserves its iconic status. But, I do have issues with Sinyard over his statement that Disney's Story of Robin Hood lacks 'imaginative cinematic quality'. In my opinion, 'Uncle' Walt's live-action romp through Sherwood stands-up well, alongside Hollywood's Oscar winner. 

The Story of Robin Hood was one of the most popular films in Britain in 1952 and would eventually gross over $4,578,000 at the American box office and $2.1. million worldwide. It was the last film to be made at Korda's legendary Denham Studios in Buckinghamshire. The location filming was done in the beautiful countryside of Burnham Beeches. They didn't need to spray the leaves green like their American cousins!

Erich Korngold's score for The Adventures of Robin Hood has, of course, passed into cinematic history. It's 'chromatic harmonies,  instrumental effects, passionate climaxes—all performed in a generally romantic manner,'  have been rightly praised. But, The Story of Robin Hood also had a lush, rousing, symphonic score, played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Muir Mathieson. Its composer was Clifton Parker (1905-1989). 

Parker received very little recognition for his film scores in his lifetime, but during his distinguished career, he composed for 50 feature films, as well as numerous documentary shorts, radio and television scores and over 100 songs and music for ballet and theatre. Sadly today, many of his compositions are lost. But, Parker was regarded by film-makers of the time, as ' the composer who never disappoints.' On The Story, he certainly did not!

When comparing the two movies, I believe it is respect for the legend that is important. For me, the research conducted by the Disney team shines through.

When Walt Disney first announced that he was to make The Story of Robin Hood, he received a letter from the Sheriff of Nottingham inviting him to visit the City Library and inspect the collection of over a thousand books of ‘Robin Hood’ lore. Walt Disney replied that he  would be unable to go to England until the film went before the cameras, but that he would extend the kind invitation to Richard Todd and his production unit under the supervision of producer Perce Pearce.

The Disney production crew, including Richard Todd in Nottingham

Walt Disney’s production crew included producer Perce Pearce, scriptwriter Lawrence Watkin, historical advisor Dr Charles Beard and art director Carmen Dillon. Some of the places that the production crew visited included Nottingham City Library, Nottingham Castle, Newstead Abbey, Edwinstowe, Sherwood Forest including Robin Hood’s Larder (now gone) and the Major Oak, Ollerton, Creswell Crags, Nottingham’s Caves, the Salutation Inn and the Trip to Jerusalem Inn.

The legend of Robin Hood was first transmitted by travelling entertainers - minstrels and The Story has Alan-a-Dale, played by a real balladeer, Elton Hayes, who not only carries the story from scene to scene but cleverly imitates how the myth was formed.

Elton Hayes as Alan-a-Dale
Elton Hayes as Alan-a-Dale

Elton Hayes had a hit record with, Whistle My Love (1952) from The Story of Robin Hood. In the 1938 Errol Flynn film, the character Alan-a-Dale is merged with Will Scarlet and given the name 'Will o' Gamwell'. This character, played by English actor Patric Knowles, just plucks at a lute in one scene.

One of the strong-points in The Adventures is, of course the iconic sword-fight between Robin (Errol Flynn) and Guy of Gisborne (Basil Rathbone). The shadow of the two characters flickering on the castle walls is a piece of cinematic history.

Errol Flynn as Robin Hood and Basil Rathbone as Guy of Gisborne

But, The Story of Robin Hood has an equally climactic scene. Sheriff De Lacy (Peter Finch) has gone back on his word as a knight and prevents Robin Hood (Richard Todd) from re-joining Marian (Joan Rice) and the outlaws in Sherwood Forest. As Robin reaches the drawbridge, the treacherous Sheriff seizes a spear from a castle warden and launches it at the outlaw, wounding him.

Richard Todd as Robin Hood

Peter Finch as the Sheriff fights with Robin Hood

The outlaw then scrambles over the drawbridge, avoiding being crushed and has to swim across the moat, amidst a shower of arrows - a breath-taking scene in which Richard Todd was nearly seriously injured!

Claude Rains (Prince John), Basil Rathbone (Gisborne) and Melville Cooper (Sheriff)

I am sure that fans of The Adventures of Robin Hood will argue that the sheer quality and sumptuous sets and costumes of this classic, raise it well above Walt Disney's live-action version. Once again, I argue that there is little to choose between the two. The costumes and sets were equally as glamorous. Hubert Gregg, who played Prince John in The Story complained that his expensive costume was so heavy he had trouble getting down from his horse:

"The costumes were beautiful, if unnecessarily weighty in their adherence to medieval reality. One cloak was heavily embroidered and lined with real fur: it cost more than a thousand pounds (a good deal of money in pre-inflationary days) and took all my strength to wear. In one scene I had to ride into the town square, leap off my horse and enter the treasury building in high dudgeon.

Hubert Gregg as Prince John in the £1000 cloak

To add to the reality our saddles were fitted with medieval pommels at the back that had to be negotiated carefully when dismounting. In the first take, I lifted my leg as gracefully as I could the necessary six inches higher than usual and leapt beautifully off my steed. As my feet touched the ground the weight of my cloak carried me completely out of frame to the left."

Prince John (Hubert Gregg) and the Sheriff (Peter Finch)

Many of the costumes and props from Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood found their way into later media productions of the legend, including the hugely successful TV series of the 1950s starring Richard Greene.

A sumptuous set from Disney's Story of Robin Hood

I could go on and on comparing these two wonderful films. But I would like to finish with a look at the two versions of Robin's beautiful girlfriend, Maid Marian.

Olivia De Havilland's role as Marian was something she was very proud of. Understandably so. Her partnership with Errol Flynn fizzed with electricity and it is claimed that she was in love with him during the filming. 

Olivia de Havilland as Marian and Errol Flynn as Robin Hood

She was described by Milo Anderson, the costume designer on The Adventures, as a strong-minded woman who had her own ideas about things on set and would do research into her roles. It paid-off. Olivia's performance broke the mould of Maid Marian. Before, the character had simply been a love-interest 'walking through lavish sets in a queenly manner.' But Olivia's Marian is fiercely independent and spirited. She is integral to the plot of the film, guiding the outlaws after his capture at the archery contest and attempting to get a message to him about the plot to kill King Richard.

This role of the independently willed Marian would be taken up thirteen years later by a young maid who grew up playing amidst the leafy glades of Sherwood Forest. Joan Rice (1930-1997), only recently propelled into the glittering world of stardom, was personally chosen by Walt Disney to play the part of the outlaw's lover in his Story of Robin Hood."

Joan Rice as Marian and Richard Todd as Robin Hood

Sherron Lux in her paper And The 'Reel' Maid Marian, gives Joan's 'Marian' some far-overdue credit:

"Joan Rice is vital to Ken Annakin’s 1952 film for Walt Disney, misleadingly called The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men; it is Marian’s story, as well, because without her, only about half the story would be left. Joan Rice gives us a bright, spunky young Lady Marian, faithful daughter of the Earl of Huntingdon, and loyal friend to her childhood companion Robin Fitzooth (Richard Todd); though he is the son of her fathers head forester, she eventually falls in love with him despite the social barriers. However, Rice’s Marian has a distinctly independent turn of mind. She defies the Queen Mother’s orders and slips out of the castle disguised in a page-boy’s livery, seeking out her friend Robin, who has become an outlaw in Sherwood Forest. Her actions ultimately help prove that Robin and his outlaws are King Richard’s real friends and that Prince John is a traitor."  

Joan Rice will always be my favourite Maid Marian.

Richard Todd as Robin Hood and Joan Rice as Maid Marian

My comparison of The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Story of Robin Hood was always going to be subjective. But I feel it is about time Walt Disney's version was brought out of the shadows, dusted down and given some rightful praise. To describe The Story as 'lacking any imaginative cinematic quality' is an affront not only to the rich cast of actors who appeared but also to Disney's multi-talented production crew who produced what critics describe as one of the best Technicolor films ever made in Britain. Watch it and see for yourself!